Galen Wolffit (wolffit) wrote,
Galen Wolffit


As some of you may know, my office moved earlier this year.  We used to be located in Old Town Alexandria, now we're in Arlington right near the courthouse.  I'd been commuting to/from Alexandria for over 10 years, and was well accustomed to the drive.  Leave the house around 8:30am, get in to work around 9am,+/- depending on traffic.  Over the years, the commute did change some as VDOT improved the interchange at 95 / 395 / 495, and at the Woodrow Wilson Bridge.  Originally it took me about 5-10 minutes to go 1 mile through the 95/395/495 interchange but more recently I could fly through at highway speeds.  Really the only morning commute bottleneck that persisted throughout the 10 years was getting onto Rt 1 and through Old Town to my office.  Even so, the 30 minute commute was pretty much the norm, only getting shorter on exceptionally light days, or longer on exceptionally heavy days or in bad weather.  The commute home was pretty much the same - traffic getting out of Alexandria, but home in around 30 minutes.  Light days getting home were much less common than light days getting to work, and heavy days were much more common.

Now, I have an entirely new pattern to learn.  Commuting to Arlington is, generally speaking, worse than commuting to Alexandria.  Arlington is inside the Beltway, right across the river from DC.  (Old Town Alexandria is inside the Beltway and across the river from DC as well, but is much closer to the Beltway!)  The only major highways that go from outside the Beltway and into Arlington, are 66 and 395.  66 is basically not an option for me, as that means going up 495 from Springfield - a very traffic-heavy route in the morning.  395 is typically very congested in the morning as well, as everyone from south of the Beltway is taking that route to get in to the Pentagon and DC.  The typical morning traffic report is "395 jammed from Springfield to the Pentagon, then from the Pentagon to the 14th Street Bridge" - basically a 12 mile stretch of highway.  The evening traffic report is much the same.  Fortunately there are separate HOV-3 lanes that are usually operating at highway speeds.

In the morning, the HOV lanes represent a good opportunity for me:  I can pick up slugs (ad-hoc carpoolers) either at the bus stops near my house if I leave right before a bus comes by, or at the 'official' slug spot on Old Keene Mill.  On a well-timed day, I can pick up two slugs immediately, without having to wait in line.  When this happens, and there's no accident on the HOV lanes, I can get to work in about 30 minutes - even on a bad weather day!  Sometimes I have to wait as long as 15 minutes to pick up slugs, which of course adds 15 minutes to my commute.  Despite the additional commute time spent waiting for passengers, driving up the HOV lanes is typically smooth sailing at highway speeds (and with the speed limit on the HOV lanes being 10mph higher than on the main line, highway speeds are pretty fast!) Despite my initial fears of having to drive up 395 in the morning, my commute is actually less stressful (generally speaking) than it was getting to Alexandria.  I even have it down to a routine: pick up slugs, hop on HOV, slight detour to drop off slugs at Pentagon, slight congestion getting from 27 to 50, then it's clear the rest of the way to the garage.

The afternoon commute, however, is a different story.  We've been here for almost 3 weeks now, and I've actually only gone directly home from work (during rush hour) two or three times, so I still haven't quite worked out all my options for avoiding traffic  I have not located a convenient slug pick up spot in Arlington (supposedly there is one in Rosslyn, but I don't know how reliable it is), and while I could pick them up at the Pentagon I haven't determined how efficient that is yet.  The times I have gone home during rush hour, I've waited until 6pm when the HOV lanes open up to all traffic.  The first mile or two are typically slow, but it generally opens up after everyone is done merging.  The afternoon commute looks to be 30-45 minutes with about the same stress as when I worked in Alexandria, maybe a bit more.  Given all the night-life options in Arlington and the gym in the basement of our building, I could easily stay in town after work if I know traffic is going to be bad. 
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